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Federalism and its quaint Nigerian version

by editor

It was Professor Dotun Phillips, a development economist then of the University of Ibadan, who in the 1970s theorised a seminal differentiation between growth and development. His analogy of a grown child who critically lacks the possession of the requisite acumen or the ability to judge a situation quickly or well in any given circumstance was widely received as picturesquely insightful. His metaphor was adjudged fitting and appropriate to the physical, mental and developmental condition of many African states, including Nigeria. The period projecting from the 1960s was one of envisioned prosperity, hope and goodwill for the emerging states of Africa. They had emerged into the international scene as serious contenders for the coveted prize of sincere, honest and committed development standard-bearers. The reason acceptance speeches of many African heads of states at their inauguration, the flowery seconding editorials of their national press and the apostolic assurances of cheer leaders had put a halo round the personae of the state actors and sparked considerable interest and enthusiasm that their nation-states were poised to do well. The people too were brimming with unrestrained confidence. There was a surge of hope.

However, soon to be replaced with hope and confidence were some ominous rumblings. The appearance of new and interesting personalities in public life – persons of professed marked ability, trained in adversity but brandishing a new and eventful beginning – soon turned sour as it gave way to despondency and grim resignation. In the case of Nigeria, a bungling interplay of the elements of tradition and the modern process of federalism unleashed the strains and stresses inherent in the incongruity of a syncretic blend of modernity and the practices of the ancients. Even as federalism in Nigeria is an imported constitutional order, its co-existence with the traditional or pre-colonial forms of constitutional arrangement was predicted to produce un-ending conflict. “Tradition” and “modernity” are mutually incompatible. A society that lays claim to modernity ipsofacto ceases to be traditional. At the introduction of a modern constitutional arrangement for Nigeria, it was wistfully suggested that primordial attachments or relationships would be displaced by rational cleavages as modern institutions firmly take root or become more pervasive.

The contrived terminological confusion of what a true federal state should be notwithstanding, the key feature of a federal constitutional arrangement is the guaranteed division of power between an all-pervasive national government exercising authority in some matters involving the entire national territory and several sub-units there of which administer their respective territories in other schedules of responsibility. Federalism can however only exist in the presence of certain values and expectations about human predilections. These values have been identified chiefly to include a sense of partnership and power sharing among the constituent units in the federation, a spirit of self-restraint and toleration, consensus on fundamental values and a sense of common nationality. Further, an element of federal political culture is the readiness to disclaim politics as a zero-sum game which exasperating features are complete power and total exclusion from power. The federalism power game is toleration simpliciter i.e an attitude of power sharing as an appropriate mechanism for relieving or resolving conflict. It has been noted elsewhere that the future of federalism in Nigeria is endangered by the palpable absence of a common sense of nationality among Nigerians. The numerous, diverse or heterogeneous units of Nigeria have yet to coalesce into a nation state in the sense of a common identity or a common sense of ordination.

Even though the federal device has been employed generally to unite multi-ethnic nations, it was introduced in Nigeria to encourage ethnic nationalism. The 1954 Lyttleton constitution which established Nigeria as a federation was consciously designed to give expression to the reality of sectional diversity and mutual distrust or suspicion. During the military interregnum however, the central command structure of the military was deployed to ensure the emergence of Nigeria as a quixotic or curious “unitary federal” system. The replacement of the regional system with a structure of many states has conduced to a more dispersed connection between units of government and ethnic or cultural alignment. It has enabled the centre to become excessively strong and over-bearing vis-à-vis the powers of the sub-entities. The seemingly innocuous lopsided or un-equal geographical and political division of Nigeria into north and south is another debilitating factor which gives Nigeria’s federalism a questionable status.

Given its sheer size and generally disputed large population, Northern Nigeria has remained the most controversial issue in the Nigerian federation discourse. British colonial policy mischievously ensured that. The power of the emirates system has further ensured an inordinate quantum of the North’s political influence. This awesome influence is reflected in Nigeria’s illogical power configuration. An age-long system of hereditary dynasties organised in such a way as to ensure the concentration of power, status and enormous wealth in the emir, his extended family membersand title holders defines the character of the emirates. It is important to note that it is in the nature of institutionalised hereditary aristocracy, often times validated by religion, to disregard the requirement to recognise the constitution, observe its limitations or tolerate opposition. The emirs have ruledover their subjects extra-constitutionally or in an autocratic manner and particularly more so over the poor. Social mobility upwards in this traditional setting is only achievable through clientage or the fawning, sycophantic courting of the aristocracy by social climbers and not necessarily through ability, competence or merit.

Attempts at secularisation of Nigeria’s political and social processes to resolve her multi-religious mish-mash conundrum have been hampered and may not make progress. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 has in s. 10 ineffectually provided that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. Even as religion is generally treated as an anti-modern influence, its onslaught against modernity is far in excess of what was envisaged as its probable disruptive capacity. Islam, for instance, has continued to serve as an integrative element for Nigerians who oppose Western economic and political influence in Nigeria and want to identify themselves as culturally or ideologically different from the West.

Further, although the Fulani jihad of 1804 – 1810 stands as easily the single most significant event in the spread of Islam in Nigeria, Islam had been an important element of indigenous Hausa culture before the jihad. Hausa kings had rested their authority on a syncretic blend of Islamic and pagan practices.

Thus, Islam has remained inseparable from the indigenous Hausa culture. The British colonialists in recognising Islam as “native law and custom” helped to secure for it a much more expansive role in Nigeria’s post-colonial history. Islam has become a most powerful factor regarding its political claims and the conflicting secular desiderata of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious federal entity.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.

Islam, as a religion or even definitionally, does not recognise the distinction between state and religion. As far as it is concerned, politics and other modes of social interaction are an extension of an all-round religious life. The un-ending debate over the appropriateness or otherwise of a Sharia jurisdiction in Nigeriathinly disguises the power struggle between the North and the South. It also paints in bold relief, muffledIslamic opposition to a secular definition of the Nigerian state. There is some extreme view to the effect that it is an abomination for a Muslim to live in a secular state. The foregoing is part of the gridlock impediment to a seamless operation of a federal system of government in Nigeria. Islam’s quest for political status and recognition hasinexorablyupped the ante regarding the classical understandingof the naturally conflictive relationship between State and Religion by re-invigorating the contradictions in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious political community.

It remains to be seen how Nigeria’s federal experiment can survive the many contradictions and self-annihilating tendencies which fiercely afflict it and undermine its effective operation.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.

Source: https://guardian.ng/opinion/federalism-and-its-quaint-nigerian-version/

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